Vol. 2, Issue 21, May 25, 2004
Kerry Challenged on Shift in Ketchup Position
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has come under fire this week for comments indicating he has changed yet another position previously held during his long political career.
"It is time to question why John Kerry has slipped yet another profound shift in policy into his continually evolving platform," said conservative Washington Post pundit Charles Krauthammer. "Opportunism is one thing; but it is hard to explain this flip-flop as anything but financially motivated."
At issue is Kerry's comments in a recent stopover indicating that America needed to improve the health of its children by considering "all options" to improve school lunches. He remarked that an increase of vegetables, such as "broccoli, salad, and ketchup" would help address the serious problem of burgeoning obesity among America's youth.
"Ketchup as a vegetable?" said Temple University political science professor Clark Fenster. "Oh man, does that take me back."
In 1981, then-president Ronald Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, proposed classifying ketchup as a vegetable as part of Reagan's budget cuts for federally financed school lunch programs. This was intended to make it cheaper to satisfy the requirements on vegetable content of lunches. However, the suggestion was widely ridiculed and the proposal was killed.
"At the time that scandal made headlines, Kerry was a candidate for lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts," noted Krauthammer. "He spoke forcefully against the Reagan administration's proposal. Now, let's see: what has changed since 1981?"
The most obvious change relevant to this issue is Kerry's marriage to Teresa Heinz, heiress to the Heinz family fortune. Heinz is the largest seller of ketchup in the world; today, the combined net worth of the Kerry-Heinz fortune is reported to be between $199 million and $839 million, making Kerry the wealthiest U.S. senator.
Kerry disputes the notion that his change in position has been motivated by his prominent connection to the largest ketchup producer in the world.
"Now, it's true I opposed Reagan's proposal back in the early eighties," said Kerry. "But that was after all over twenty years ago. Our understanding of nutrition has evolved since then. For example, it is now known that ketchup contains significant amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant found primarily in processed tomato products. Although the FDA has not yet established nutritional guidlelines for the consumption of lycopene, I think some of our previous notions about ketchup do need to be reconsidered in this light."
Some commentators have argued that Kerry's switch on ketchup is indeed a calculated move, but attribute it to a broader attempt to reach out to moderate Republican voters.
"Bush has angered a lot of Republicans," noted Fenster, "and they are looking for a reason - any reason - to find something positive about John Kerry so they can vote against Bush with a clear conscience. There are few presidents, Republican or Democrat, who have been as popular as Ronald Reagan in the popular imagination - the Republican party has practically canonized him. By embracing a long-dormant and relatively minor Reagan policy initiative, Kerry may actually be making a shrewd bid for these voters on the fence."
It is unclear whether this position change will affect Kerry's core Democratic voters, who have offered mixed reactions to the announcement.
"You know, I wouldn't even mind the resurrection of a silly Reagan-era policy like this if it means getting Bush out of office," said registered Democrat Kylie Benson following a recent Kerry appearance. "But you know, they've started passing out little "Kerry for President" ketchup packets. It makes me feel like I'm voting for Ronald McDonald."